- Author: Robert Johnson
It's that time again! The worlds largest GIS User Conference has returned for its 38th year and the first two days have been jam packed with content. This is my fourth time attending, and I'm always a bit surprised by how much the conference seems to have grown every time I come down. This year's attendance is around 16,000 people and it shows! The halls of the San Diego convention center are filled with an unbelievable human tide and I've been in a couple of sessions that were standing room only.
The first day's plenary session was quite a production as usual, but was lacking in the type of big announcements of new software or major updates that have been the norm in years past. Highlights included a look at how Disney Imagineers developed the city of Zootopia using Esri's CityEngine software and a thought-provoking keynote address from Dr. Geoffrey West about the growth cycles of biological organisms and their links to the development of urban areas.
Some highlights from Day 2 included a session on the continued integration of Python and R into the ArcGIS Desktop environment, particularly ArcGIS Pro. The closest thing I've seen to a major announcement so far is that raster support is coming to the R-ArcGIS Bridge with the release of ArcGIS Pro 2.1. I also atteneded a session on Esri's Drone2Map software which looks like a simplified version of Pix4D which has been very nicely integrated with ArcGIS Pro. I think the biggest takeaway from these first days has been that I really need to start seriously working on migrating to ArcGIS Pro!
I look forward to what's in store for the rest of the week. Stay tuned for more updates!
For many people, the winter holidays are a good time to catch up on things that you've put off the entire year - that article you've been working on since last summer, your merit and promotion package, and taking your GIS skills to the next level! Fortunately, no matter what you want to learn, there are a number of great online resources you can turn to.
Knowing what you want to learn is often half the battle. If you're just starting out, perhaps exploring some of the basic concepts and learning how they apply in your field would be a good place to start before jumping into software tutorials. Or maybe you've been stuck for a while on a specific task, like importing data, fixing the labels on your map, or turning your paper map into an interactive web map. If you'd like to chat with a GIS consultant to clarify your goals, feel free to sign-up for the IGIS online office hours, and we'll get you pointed in the right direction.
The IGIS team put together some of our favorite "go to" online GIS training resources that we use ourselves all the time. If you don't see what you're looking for below, or have another other site you'd recommend, please leave a comment or drop us an email and we'll add it to the list.
Happy Holidays, and Happy Mapping!
Andy, Shane, Sean, Robert, and Maggi
ESRI Web Courses, Training Seminars, and Tutorials
A little known fact about the University of California's site license with ESRI (including ANR) is that it includes virtually unlimited access to their entire catalog of web courses and online training seminars. Instructor led classes still require a fee, but there are literally hundreds of high-quality recorded e-courses you can take, ranging from introductory to advanced topics, from basic concepts to specific software steps. ESRI web courses are typically 3 hours long, while training seminars are 1 hour, so you can fit them in on a slow day. Check out the course catalog, and remember to filter by "E-Learning" as the format and what you would like to learn in the "GIS Capabilities" box.
To take most of ESRI's online training, you need a UC sponsored ArcGIS.com account (note that ESRI.com accounts are different and won't do you any good here). If you don't already have an enterprise ArcGIS.com account and you work for ANR, IGIS can hook you up with one. Just fill in the software request form and check the box for an ArcGIS.com account. You'll also have the option to download the latest desktop GIS software, which might be a good idea if you're still using an older version of ArcGIS Desktop.
TIP: If you're brand new to GIS, consider starting with the 3-hour web course called Getting Started with ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro is relatively new, has a much more intuitive interface, and will eventually replace the venerable ArcGIS Desktop.
For additional hands-on experience, ESRI also has a number of self-paced guided exercises you can work through for most of its products.
Recorded GIS Webinars from Extension.org
Connected to eXtension.org, a national resource network for US Cooperative Extension professionals, is a GIS training and support group called Map@Syst. They have published a number of recorded webinars on applications of GIS for cooperative extension work, including using maps to engage your audience, story maps, working with Lidar data, Landsat imagery, etc. A great resource definitely worth checking out.
ESRI Hacker Labs
If you've got a little experience with web mapping (perhaps from taking an IGIS workshop?), the exercises in the ESRI Geodev Hacker Labs library are a great way to learn / remember the basic steps. Lots of code examples and explanations take you from A to Z, and everything is on GitHub so they're completely free!
(anything to add here?)
Technical Workshops from the 2016 ESRI User Conference
ESRI holds a ginormous user conference every July, which is a great place to move your GIS skills to the next level. If you can't wait until next summer, there are recordings of over 50 technical workshops from the 2016 User Conference available on YouTube.
QGIS and ESRI Courses on Lynda.com
Another under-utilized resource available to all ANR staff is the virtually unlimited access to the thousands of online courses at Lynda.com. These professionally made courses include a number of GIS subjects, including Up and Running with QGIS, ArcGIS Pro Essential Training, and GIS on the Web. Courses are generally 2-3 hours long.
If you have a little more time and would like a little stronger foundation, consider taking a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). UC Davis sponsors a series of five GIS courses on the e-learning platform Coursera.com. These are four-week courses requiring about 5 hours per week, so they cover a lot of territory and are generally very good. For a fee you can complete all five courses and earn a certificate, or you can audit them for free. Check out the syllabus and reviews if you're not sure.
ESRI also has a handful of MOOCs, including "Going Places with Spatial Analysis", "Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps", and "Earth Imagery at Work". They also keep a list of links to other GIS MOOCs offered by Universities. See http://www.esri.com/mooc for details.
Modeling Ecosystem Services with InVEST
While not GIS software per se, InVEST is probably the most developed multi-purpose ecosystem modeling software out there. Our friends at the Natural Capital Project have developed a 4-hour online course that introduces the main ideas behind ecosystem services and gets you started with InVEST. Both the course and the software are free. See An Introduction to the Natural Capital Approach.
There are many other great learning resources out there including a lot of tutorials on YouTube, but these are a few that we know from organizations who have put some real time and thought into it.
So there you have it - no more excuses for not knowing enough GIS to do what you want! If you don't like online training, then we'd love to see you at an IGIS workshop in 2017, or stop by our online office hours for some free tips.
- Author: Andy Lyons
I must confess when I first thought about a GIS-themed poster for the California Naturalist conference last weekend, the two topics seemed like somewhat odd bedfellows. The central character of naturalists, it seemed to me, is a deep-seated passion for nature, rooted in direct experiences in the outdoors, keen powers of observation, and lots of reflection on the connections to our deeper selves, our personal and collective histories, and our communities. The big insights from GIS, on the other hand, stem from slicing and dicing the real world into abstracted layers that can be stored, shared, and manipulated in a digital realm. How could these two vastly different ways of knowing, epistemologies if you will, complement each other? At best I thought GIS might be useful to make navigation maps to help naturalists find their way through a forest. At worst, I thought the technological mediation of experience that GIS brings to bear could dilute the essence of what draws people to natural history.
It reminds me of …
Questions about Connection
At this level, a cell phone app may not be what you want to record or structure your thoughts. However I also saw that many of the questions that come out of observations and reflection are exactly the kinds of questions that GIS shines in answering. What is the history of this thing? Why is it here? Where else is it found? And how is it connected to the things around it?
Natural history has been around much longer than GIS, but already there are some spectacular examples of technology enabling the work of naturalists. The mobile app iNaturalist shines in this space, because it not only is an incredibly useful tool for recording observations, but also extends the value of making observations by creating connections across a vast online community of other naturalists. Nature watchers can learn from each other, as well as aggregate their observations so the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
In bringing people and data together, iNaturalist is a good example of what is more generically known as community and citizen science, of which there are hundreds of examples. The CalNat conference featured several presentations about citizen science, which highlighted another connection between naturalists and technology -- in many cases citizen science has provided the motivation or on-ramp for people to venture into the field in the first place. Guided to a meadow or wetland by a citizen science program, they can then develop observation, curiosity, and connection which are the hallmarks of naturalists.
Spatial and Temporal Scale
Seeing things at different scales is another part of GIS, and large scale datasets such as satellite images or topo maps can highlight patterns and relationships not visible from a worms-eye view. GIS is also a good tool to “see” important characteristics that are not visible to the naked eye, such as the annual temperature range, precipitation levels, or soil types. Naturalists are also curious about the history of species, and how thing will change in the future. Through GIS, we can access the observations of naturalists who went before us, such as the Wieslander photos and vegetation maps from the 1920s and 30s. To some degree we can also “see” into the future, using tools like Cal-Adapt or the California Climate Console, which present different models of the impacts of climate change.
One of the most thought-provoking talks during the conference was given by Charles Convis from ESRI, the makers of the popular ArcGIS software. Convis has a unique perspective on the connection between naturalists and GIS, with a degree in Natural History from UC Santa Cruz and almost three decades at the helm of the ESRI Conservation Program. His talk wove together anecdotes from his own history with reflections on how landscape images and mapping have precipitated paradigm shifts over time, and the evolution of GIS. I was intrigued by an ambitious metaphor Charles made when he argued that GIS is “the Calculus of Natural History and Landscape Ecology”. What he meant by this was that in the same way that Newton's invention of calculus made all sorts of observational data about the planets fit together under one paradigm, GIS is a tool and way of thinking that can bring together many types of environmental data, questions, and models under one roof. I like this way of thinking, because draws attention to GIS as both a conceptual paradigm that connects diverse environmental data and questions through simple but powerful principles (things are situated in space and time, there are different types of connectivity, close things tend to be more related than distant things, etc.), as well as GIS as an increasingly powerful set of tools that can store, manipulate, fuse, analyze, and visualize many types of data.
I saw a great example of the unifying power of GIS during a conference field trip to the Santa Ana River watershed, where we learned about a Habitat Conservation Plan for the upper part of the watershed. Heather Dyer from the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and Jeff Beehler from the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District took us on a tour of the watershed and described the very long but ultimately fruitful effort to develop a HCP that will allow the water utility to continue managing the watershed for groundwater recharge and flood protection, while also protecting endangered species and allowing for other uses including recreation and transportation. Successful collaboration around water and endangered species is a rarity in California, but in this case was made possible by some enlightened thinking on the part of the utilities, a handful of strong leaders in key agencies, lots and lots of dialogue, and craftful application of the carrots and sticks in the ESA.
However they also told us it also would not have been possible without GIS, which became the main tool for planning and communication (the calculus if you will). The process of assembling and collecting new spatial data was itself collaborative, and built relationships among the stakeholders that provided a foundation for the more difficult conversations about tradeoffs and compromises. In the coming months as the HCP begins a formal review process, the groups will release the geodatabase behind the HCP, which will enable additional updates, analyses, and discussions.
We should always be reflective about how technology is affecting our work and lives, but the California Naturalist conference gave me a lot of insights about how GIS and online tools can be used to enhance the work of naturalists, expand their vision, and broaden their communities. If you have other ideas or examples of how naturalists have productively used (or could use) mapping technologies, we would love to read about it in the comments.
- Author: Shane Feirer
Thank you to ESRI and the GIF for making this training opportunity possible.
- Author: Shane Feirer
The last day of the ESRI User Conference was as informative as the first. I attended several different sessions covering several different topics. The first session I attended was about smart mapping. Smart Mapping is a new set of tools that are being integrated into ArcGIS server and ArcGIS online. These tools are intended to take the make the creation of beautiful maps easier and allow the GIS professional more flexibility and creativity.. From what I have seen smart mapping does what ESRI intended. The next session that I followed was a session about advanced regression and spatial regression analysis using ArcGIS. They have improved on the previous set of existing spatial statistics functions available in ArcGIS and I look forward comparing these new tools to those available in R. The last session that I attended was about 3d cartography. This session highlight the principles of creating impactful 3d scenes with ArcGIS Pro, Scene, and ArcGIS Online. I look forward to using these techniques and tools at IGIS.
In summary the 2015 ESRI User Conference was a great event as always. ESRI is rolling out many innovative applications and tools that are making sharing data and information easier. These tools will allow UCANR and IGIS to work with our constituents and provide our research in an interactive and fun manner. As I have stated numerous times over the last week, I look forward to implementing many of these new tools in the coming weeks and months. I hope that I have the opportunity to attend this conference again next year.